ROME — Prime Minister Enrico Letta, whose weak coalition government has come under increasing criticism, resigned Thursday night, after his own Democratic Party staged a dramatic insurrection and voted to replace him with the party’s new leader, Matteo Renzi.
The Democratic Party is the largest member of Italy’s coalition government, and the party’s decision to dump Letta will probably have to be put to a confidence vote in Parliament. Letta will meet with his Cabinet on Friday morning and then present his resignation letter to Italy’s president, making way for Renzi, 38, to become Italy’s youngest prime minister.
Renzi, the mayor of Florence who recently won a nationwide primary to become leader of the Democratic Party, has a reputation for boldness and has long been considered Italy’s most promising young politician.
He has spoken repeatedly about the need for sweeping political and economic changes. But few analysts foresaw that he would lead a revolt against his party’s sitting prime minister.
“Italy is living in a moment of difficulty,” Renzi said during a televised emergency meeting of the Democratic Party on Thursday afternoon. “We need to offer the possibility to emerge from this morass with a radical program to relaunch the country.”
Italy is suffering through a prolonged recession, even as some other European countries are starting to emerge from a devastating downturn. Unemployment tops 12 percent, and while business leaders have called for major reforms to spur economic growth, Italy’s political system has been stalemated, largely unable to respond.
For Europe, which is witnessing rising populist anger in advance of European parliamentary elections, Italy’s economic doldrums and political gyrations are sources of persistent concern. Last year, Letta fended off challenges to bring down his government by arguing that Italy needed stability, an argument endorsed by many European leaders.
Letta was placed in charge by Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, partly because of his reputation as a cool-headed politician capable of working with different parties.
But his government was ultimately doomed by inaction, in part because of the awkwardness of his coalition, a divisive marriage of left and right parties that was cobbled together after inconclusive national elections in February 2013.